My thoughts on Gift Giving

What did you give your loved ones this Valentine’s Day? Whenever I buy presents for family and friends, no matter the holiday, I like to invest in experiences rather than material gifts. I’m not sure I’ve ever bought my boyfriend an item of clothing. (Except for a t-shirt with a Middle Earth subway map…I mean c’mon, how do you not buy that?) We like to buy each other tickets for concerts, comedy shows, vacations, Broadway shows, you get the idea. I take pride in my gift giving abilities, and I get so nervous watching someone open my present. Their reaction is my favorite part! I can confidently say I’ve never given a present that has been a dud. The one exception to that was the time I bought him tickets to Six Flags for his birthday just because I really wanted to go. He was a bit confused when he first opened his present, but once we got to the park it was clear I made a good call.

SIX FLAGS was ours to conquer

Exhibit: A

Anyway, for Christmas, I decided I wanted to do something similar for my Mom, so I bought a “Painting with a Twist” class. (The BYOB painting classes that are really on trend right now. ) I made sure to extend the invite to Grandma and Aunt Mia too. I needed some normal human beings-no offense guys- to make me feel better about painting with Mom, the artist of the family. They weren’t too thrilled at the idea of a painting class, but once I mentioned the wine they seemed to be easily convinced. I made sure to schedule the class on a day that I was in town, so I too could enjoy the wine painting class with all my best gal pals. 😉

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Brie is always a good idea

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The artist at work

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Final products

 

Since I took care of the wine and paint, I had had my brother take care of my Mom’s other love, cake! We purchased a two part Butter-Cream Cake Decorating course for my mom. I conveniently could not find a set of dates that corresponded with the weekends I would be in town for this set of lessons. The only thing to do was to call upon Mom’s faithful sidekicks: Grandma and Aunt Mia, to join her for the fun.  Aunt Mia was the most thrilled I think. And by thrilled, I mean less than thrilled. There was a lot more prep that went into this course than I anticipated. Participants had to provide their own cakes, icing, and cake decorating kits. Which makes sense, being that these are integral tools to decorating a cake, but doesn’t make sense if you are trying to give people gifts that don’t require work on their part. Oh well, lessons were already purchased, so I just hoped my family would figure out a way to make it work. They didn’t let me down.

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Grandma’s butterfly creation

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Ant Mia’s Doggone Good Cake

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PEACE, LOVE, AND CAKESMYMOMMAKES

 

In my opinion, no matter how much wine consumed, curse words uttered, or eyes rolled, an experience is sure to provide more laughter, love , and memories than any gift card, article of clothing, or piece of jewelry.* I encourage everyone to give it a try.

*Exceptions include diamonds (a girl’s best friend) or Harry Potter related memorabilia.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post! I have another fun story featuring a birthday trip gift to Texas and a special guest appearance cake from my cousin. #cakesmycousinmakes

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Holiday Traditions

The holidays make me wish I was 5 again. This could be because, in my Mom’s eyes, we still are 5. The woman puts a lot of stock in tradition, and she has a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that my brother and I are 19 and 25 years old respectively. I’m not complaining. I’m a sucker for decorating the tree and making Christmas cookies, but sometimes it gets awkward. For example, I believed in Santa for longer than the vast majority of my peers.  All the other kids in my class would be like, “Santa is not real.” Of course, I would agree with them so I would look cool, but in my mind I was like, “IDIOTS. Jokes on you people, Santa is totally real. Who else but elves could put this kind of craftsmanship into TY beanie babies?” I think it was 5th grade when I had to come to terms with the fact that maybe something was up.  Santa’s handwriting looked an awful lot like Mom’s. Not to mention I was learning about gravity, and time zones, and science, and stuff. Now my brother and I play along with her as best we can. We put out cookies for Santa (Mom) and Rudolph (Still Mom.) And we pretend to be really surprised to find them gone the next morning. The crumbs are a convincing touch. It’s fun to act like a kid for the holidays.

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My Masterpiece 🙂

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In Florida this is what our Snowmen and women look like.

Our Christmas morning traditions have remained pretty consistent. Early Christmas morning, before presents, we gather around the manger (the same manger my Dad made in his garage “workshop” over 20 years ago) and sing happy birthday to Jesus. (I’m not kidding.) Each of us then reads a paragraph from the Nativity story. I have to stifle laughter when it’s Dad’s turn to read. Picture Dad in his robe with no coffee in his system yet trying to read without his reading glasses. Never gets old.

When it’s time to open presents, my brother and I assume our positions as “present-passer-outers” -a phrase we coined years ago. My brother does not take this role too seriously. He gets distracted when the first present he picks up is for himself, and consequently forgoes his present distributing duties for the remainder of Christmas morning. Mom never opens any of her presents because she is taking pictures of us opening up every. single. present. Once all of the presents and stockings are opened we get to my favorite part of the morning: the Breakfast FEAST.

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The spread. See if you can spot my Christmas morning favorite: Sausage balls.

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The year Mom got really ambitious and made her own X-mas candy.

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Another year she made a beautiful Christmas tree cake

While we’re on the subject of Holiday traditions, I would like to speak about my Mom’s interior design skills that really shine throughout the Holiday season. To be frank, our house looks like it was decorated by a bunch of kindergartners. This is because, in fact, it is. Every decoration my brother and I ever created is brought out of the vault and put on display. Mom doesn’t throw anything away.  She cannot bear to part with our little glitter and macaroni covered faces.

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Exhibit A: Every ornament we made as children.

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Exhibit B: My brother and I looking THRILLED to decorate cookies with our grade school Noel signs hanging on the windows in the background. One of us had a tough time with our “L”s in kindergarten. She shall remain nameless.

I wouldn’t trade these traditions for anything, and I can’t wait to get back home for Christmas to spend it with the family I love the most. Happy Holidays everyone!

#TBT to Thanksgiving Pies

I’m sorry, I know everyone is over Thanksgiving. It’s Christmas time, and I promise I got the memo. I’m just finding it increasingly difficult during the holiday season to keep up with the ole blog! Thank goodness for #TBT. I’m throwing it all the way back to Thanksgiving 2014, or as we like to call it up in Brooklyn, “Friendsgiving 2014.” I didn’t get a chance to make it down to Florida this year for Thanksgiving, so for the second year in a row, I met up with the Brooklyn Framily I’ve been adopted into for a Thanksgiving Feast. Dress code: PJs.

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Polaroids to capture the night

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The neighborhood Thanksgiving Turkey was gracious enough to stop buy. With a six pack of Miller High Life, obviously.

At home Mom and Dad had a more low key Thanksgiving this year with immediate family. Usually we’re with upwards of 30 extended family members with a feast that consists of 4 different turkeys, ham, and pork, countless sides, and about 5 different of Mom’s famous pies. This year it was just my Mom, Dad, Brother and Grandparents, so they just stuck with a turkey and a ham. (my brother can’t have Thanksgiving without ham for some reason.) Mom made a couple of homemade pies along with her apricot curry cheese dip.

Inspired by my mom’s choice in dishes, I decided I would also make the cheese-dip as well as a pumpkin pie for the Friendsgiving festivities. The pie turned out pretty well in my opinion (you can’t really mess up a pumpkin pie.)

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Chocolate Pecan, Pumpkin, and Pear Pie

My mom then texted me the picture below of her apricot curry cheese dip.

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I can’t compete with this.

My attempt to mimic  my mom’s presentation rivaled many of the amusing Pinterest fails you find on Buzzfeed. I should have taken a picture to document the failure that was my turkey cheese ball. It was bad. My friends can attest. Although it did not look as pretty, it tasted delicious! The recipe is super easy. It is perfect for Thanksgiving and tailgating. Mom has turned this cheese ball into a football and a turkey so I can’t wait to see what’s next. Check out the recipe below!

Ingredients

-2 packages of cream cheese

-4 TBSP Chunky Apricot Jam

-2 TSP Fresh Curry Powder

-1 10 oz pkg chopped almonds

-3 TBSP butter or margerine

Directions

Prehead oven to 350 degrees. Brown almonds with butter for about 10 minutes. Careful not to let them burn! Drain on paper towel. Mix together room temperature cream cheese, jam, and curry powder. Let chill overnight. (4-8 hours.) After chilled, roll into a ball, and roll with almonds to make a crust. Feel free to be festive with details! (As mom always is.)

I’m excited to be home for the holidays soon to share more festive holiday treats and stories. 🙂

CakesMyOfficeMakes

As I have mentioned before, I live pretty far away from my family. Around this time of year, the homesickness starts to kick in to high gear. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to be part of not just one, but a few different families of my own up here. I’ve got an NYC family, a Brooklyn family, and then I have my Hoboken family. They are my work family.

There are 7 of us in the office, and everyone has an integral part to play.

In my work family we’ve got a Golden Boy Big Brother, a sarcastic middle child, a free spirited sister, a quirky aunt who always shows us pictures of her cats, a baby brother who can’t stop smiling, and then me-the nerdy older sister who laughs at her own jokes.

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Don’t be thrown off by the mustaches. The guys participated in Movember to raise awareness for prostate cancer. They don’t usually look that creepy.

The Patriarch of our zany crew is our boss, Jordan. Picture someone with the positive outlook of a Michael Scott, the jokes of a Phil Dunphy, and (he’s going to love this one) the dance moves of a Justin Timberlake. I was inspired to write about my work family, and Jordan in particular, because we celebrated his 31st birthday a few weeks ago (I apologize for the delayed post! I’ve been too busy with all the hard work to blog 😉 ) Anyhoo, for office birthdays we usually just throw in $20 or so and give each other gift cards, but this year we had an idea to all pitch in for a surprise birthday bowling bash for Jordan.

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Happy Birthday Jordan!

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VIP

The ladies were in charge of the cake, and one of my co-workers had the idea of making alien themed cupcakes for his birthday. The alien theme was solely inspired by a picture taken of Jordan that legitimately looks like an alien.

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“Take me to your leader.”

We were in a bar with a green laser that just happened to shine on Jordan’s face at the time this picture was taken. I don’t know how to describe the look on his face, but I can tell you there is no one in our office who can look at this picture without cracking up laughing. This picture was the inspiration for our alien themed cupcakes. Unbeknownst to us all, Jordan has a secret (not anymore) obsession with aliens, specifically the show Ancient Aliens on the history channel.

Needless to say Jordan’s birthday bowling alien party was a success. I don’t know a better time than bowling, pizza, chicken tenders, an open bar, and alien cupcakes.

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Look closely to spot the Alien Krista mixed in with the Alien Jordans.

The day after his surprise birthday, at our morning meeting in between discussing the future of our office and my long term goals at our company, my boss confessed to me that he believed he actually could be an alien. I don’t think he was kidding.

Yes, this is the zany, crazy work family, and I am very proud to work with all of these alien weirdos. They are…out of this world. (I wasn’t lying when I called myself the dorky one who laughs at her own jokes.)

#TBT Happy Hallo-Birthday

My brother and I were pretty lucky kids growing up. Not only did we get the standard trick or treating candy stash every year, but we were also privy to Halloween birthday cake. I will never be one of those grand-kids that forgets Grandma’s birthday, because every year, yes every year, it’s on October 31st. Although I had many different Halloween throwback cakes to choose from for this post, I decided to share with you all Grandma’s 60th birthday cake. I think this was probably one of those cakes where Mom was resourceful and just used things we already had in stock in the pantry.It’s not one of Mom’s most elaborate creations, but it is a cake that gives me the nostalgic warm and fuzzies. It reminds me of the days of flashlight tag, nicktoon marathons, and eating Halloween candy until I felt sick.

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All you need for a cake like this are orange sprinkles and tootsie roles. Simple and Sweet!

The pumpkin wasn’t the only cake Mom made. Mom also made Grandma a Birthday Cake costume using cardboard, a table cloth, and crepe paper. Check it out!

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Grandma’s homemade 60th birthday cake costume 🙂

We were a good looking bunch for Halloween that year. Nikki (wrote about her in my Montana post) was the Ethel to my Lucy. Not to brag, but we won first place in our School’s costume contest.

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Lookin good ladies.

Our two siblings looked almost as adorable as we did…ALMOST.  Jokes, Nick and Mackenzie were by far the most adorable 4 year olds around. Mackenzie was a lady bug, and Nick was his childhood hero, Thomas the Tank Engine.

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He tortured me with the amount of times we had to watch Thomas and his friends drive around their train tracks looking all creepy.

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Blowing out the candles!

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My brother ruined 9/10 pictures when we were younger because he thought he could “catch the flash.” He’s always been our special child.

Birthday or no Birthday, I advise everyone to try out making a special Halloween cake this year. There are so many creative and easy ideas out there!  I’m excited to see what Mom has in store for this year…no pressure.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

Dad’s Birthday Lesson: Treat Yoself at Your Own Risk

I know I mentioned Halloween cakes in my last post, and they’re coming, but first I wanted to do a quick post for my dear old Dad’s birthday. He celebrated it with my family this past weekend. I wasn’t able to make it down to Florida to join them in the festivities, but I did order a special surprise care package that should be delivered to him anyyyyyy day now. It’s going to arrive a little late, but in our family as long as you send a present in the same month as the birthday, you get a gold star. Plus, it’s always nice to get a gift after your actual birthday. No one hates a post birthday present. Anyway, I felt it was important to send him a good gift this year, because after talking to my mom last week I honestly wasn’t sure Dad would even get a cake this year. You see, he got himself into a bit of trouble. He’s been asking for a new TV for a while now. This TV is not for the living room, his bedroom, or the family room. This is for his man cave. (AKA our garage.) Some people store cars in their garages, but we have never been those kinds of people, thanks to Dad. Our garage is for beer, football, Fox News, and the History Channel. Mom heard Dad’s less than subtle hints about wanting a new TV, so she decided to make the purchase for his birthday.

This was a surprising move for Mom, as she is not the Man Cave’s biggest fan. I wouldn’t say she’s anti-man cave, but she’s definitely not pro-man cave. She was able to put these feelings aside for Dad’s birthday, and she placed an order for a nice new flat screen TV set to arrive on the big day. Now in the meantime, Dad had no knowledge that Mom had finally come around to support the pimping out of said man cave.  So, two days before the TV is set to arrive, she comes home to find Dad in the cave setting up a spanking new TV that he bought on his own. Mom. Was. Not. Happy. I think this is one of those things they’re going to be able to look back and laugh about. Classic mixup, right? I’m still not sure which TV was returned, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that Mom forgave Dad’s impulse buy, and still made him a delicious birthday cake inspired by one of his favorite candy bars: Almond Joy. I’m more of a Reese’s gal myself, but the cake looked delicious! Recipe can be found here. (Mom just discovered Sugarhero, and she’s in love.)

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They rounded off the weekend by tailgating and cheering the Jags. Despite a hard to watch loss to Miami, mom brought birthday cheer to the tailgate with her apricot curry cheese ball. Huge hit!

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Wishing everyone a spOOky Halloween week! Halloween cakes to come…

The trip to Big Sky Country

Whew, it has been a while since my last post. The last few months have been a whirlwind for me, so I’m excited to get back to the blog to share the adventure Mom and I took alllll the way back in August.  This whole trip came about, because I have a best friend who basically has one of the coolest summer jobs of anyone around. Nikki and I have known each other since we were 4 years old. I can’t remember exactly how or when we met, all I can remember is how inseparable we were. We made up songs together, choreographed dances, and of course we attempted to play sports together (woof.) To be honest, we really spent the majority of our time pretending we were characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fact: ANGEL > EDWARD CULLEN. Fast forward to now: Nikki lives in LA where she is pursuing her dream of being an actress. (YOU GO GIRL!) While she spends the majority of time in LA, for the past five years she has been performing at Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Bigfork, Montana. Many Bigfork Summer Playhouse alumni have gone off to do amazing things, and I have no doubt she will do the same.

Partner in crime...and by crime, I mean dorky activities

Partner in crime…and by crime, I mean dorky activities

My Mom and I had discussed trying to get out to Montana to see her each summer, but we never quite made it work until this year. Mom, Grandma, and I planned a girls trip! If you’re every looking to visit Montana, make sure to stop by Bigfork, and if you’re going during the summer, check out the Playhouse.

Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie

In Bigfork we were theater-goers by night and adventurers by day. Our first day time excursion included a visit to Whitefish Mountain Resort where we hiked and zip-lined. We had a little downtime before our zip-lining was scheduled, so we decided to do what any level headed human would do: hit up the bar. All three of us  had a glass (or two) of wine, and Grandma even chugged a beer, which was probably in the top 3 highlights of the entire trip. I’m not sure the zip-line instructor was fully comfortable in allowing Mom and I to participate. Mostly because after weighing ourselves (necessary evil of Zip-line preparation apparently) my mom asked, “Is this scale in kilometers?”…Classic.

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Two crazies on a zip-line.

Not to worry, we made it through the experience and had a lot of laughs. Our zip-lining crew dubbed us Lucy and Ethel, which we took as high praise. Next on our list was Glacier Park, which is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. If you don’t believe me check out the pics! Mom, Grandma, and I stuck to the novice trails. I know you’re probably thinking the reason for this was because of Grandma, or even because of Mom, but you would be wrong. If you know anything about me you know I don’t like to climb. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite activities. My 4th floor walk-up is taxing enough. Give me a nice gradual incline and I’m a happy camper, or in this case, a happy hiker.

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At any rate, we “hiked” a pretty flat trail with gorgeous waterfall views, and a bathroom half way through which was super convenient, especially for Mom, who on average goes every 10 minutes. So we’re on this one way, flat hiking trail for dummies taking a gazillion pictures and having an all around good time, when the inevitable happens. With my inherited lack of any sense of direction it was a toss up as to whether Mom or I was going to be the one who got lost on the trail. But Krista, you may ask, how does one get lost on a one way, flat hiking trail for dummies? Trust me, between my Mom and I, one of us WILL find a way not only to get lost, but also to completely justify it by giving a number of thoroughly ridiculous valid excuses that lay blame on anyone other than ourselves. For those betting, Mom was the big winner (or loser depending on your perception.) On one of her 9 bathroom stops, she took the wrong turn out of the bathroom and ended up hiking half a mile the opposite way of Grandma and me. This led to a frantic search. Well, I should say I was frantic. Grandma was oddly unconcerned. Perhaps this is because she has approximately 20 more years of experience with my mother’s antics than I have. Who knows. After 30 minutes of running around asking everyone I saw if they had seen a small lady with brown hair and a confused look on her face, I finally heard a shrill, yet familiar voice calling my name. We found her! After 10 minutes of her complaining that they should have better signs outside the bathrooms and that the trails should be better marked, we were able to continue our journey. Before the end of the hike, I had at least 3 complete strangers come up to us to say how happy they were that I found Mom. Mom told me that I embarrassed her by freaking everyone out. She gets lost on a one way trail, and somehow in all of this, I’m the embarrassing one?  Gotta love her.

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So where do the cakes come into play in all of this? I’ll tell you with one word: Huckleberries. These Montanans can huckleberry literally ANYTHING. Huckleberry jam, bread, coffee, tea, cookies, gummies, pancakes, and one of my personal favorites…FRO YO. Even the beer I told you all about, you know the one Grandma chugged? You guessed it, huckleberry flavored.

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Huckleberry Fro-Yo

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Montana Mush

Mom couldn’t come home without buying as much huckleberry flavored stuff as she could carry. All we have back in Florida are oranges, so she had to spice it up. So what did she make? A CAKE. Well, she made mini cakes. Ok, she made muffins. Delicious huckleberry muffins.

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Huckleberry Muffins. Not pictured: the huckleberry cobbler mom made that everyone gobbled up before anyone had a chance to take a picture.

The muffins were an awesome end to an even more awesome trip! It was our first Montana adventure, and I hope it’s not our last. If you ever find yourself visiting, don’t go home without the huckleberries!

P.S. Stay tuned for some Halloween cakes coming up soon 🙂